LDS Mormon Polygamy Illegal

 
     MAIN MENU

 

 

 




Mormon Polygamy Was Never Legal


"We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.
"
- 12th Article of Faith, written by the Prophet Joseph Smith

Why did God command Joseph Smith to enter "plural marriage" in the 1830s, when bigamy was already illegal in the state of Illinois?

"Sec 121. Bigamy consists in the having of two wives or two husbands at one and the same time, knowing that the former husband or wife is still alive. If any person or persons within this State, being married, or who shall hereafter marry, do at any time marry any person or persons, the former husband or wife being alive, the person so offending shall, on conviction thereof, be punished by a fine, not exceeding one thousand dollars, and imprisoned in the penitentiary, not exceeding two years. It shall not be necessary to prove either of the said marriages by the register or certificate thereof, or other record evidence; but the same may be proved by such evidence as is admissible to prove a marriage in other cases, and when such second marriage shall have taken place without this state, cohabitation in this state after such second marriage shall be deemed the commission of the crime of bigamy, and the trial in such case may take place in the county where such cohabitation shall have occurred."
Revised Laws of Illinois, 1833, p.198-99
The fact that polygamy was illegal is the very reason Joseph Smith and his followers practiced it in secret, and steadfastly denied teaching or practicing polygamy when accused of it or when asked about it.

In fact, the 1835 edition of the "Doctrine and Covenants," which was the official edition during the Prophet Joseph Smith's church administration, specifically prohibited the practice of polygamy:
Doctrine and Covenants Section 101, Verse 4 (1835 edition)

"Inasmuch as this church of Christ has been reproached with the crime of fornication and polygamy; we declare that we believe that one man should have one wife; and one woman but one husband; except that in the event of death when either is at liberty to marry again." (History of the Church, vol. 2, pg. 247)
Joseph Smith himself affirmed monogamy to be the only form of marriage permissible in his church in the church's official 1838 publication:

"Do the Mormons believe in having more wives than one? No, not at the same time. But they believe that if their companion dies, they have a right to marry again."
-The Prophet Joseph Smith, May 1, 1838, as quoted in "Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith", p. 119.

Can we believe that Joseph Smith's actions in marrying at least 33 women, and having sex with many of them, between the years of 1833 and 1844, indicate an effort on his part to obey the laws of the church or the land?

And why did Joseph Smith, on May 25, 1844, deny having any wives other than Emma Hale Smith?

Joseph Smith was indicted on charges of polygamy and adultery on May 23, 1844:

"The marriage to the Lawrence sisters became public knowledge when William Law, Joseph's second counselor in the First Presidency, became alienated from the Prophet. Law, who had known the Lawrence family since their conversion in Canada, chose the marriage of Smith and Maria Lawrence as a test case with which to prosecute Smith for adultery. On May 23 he filed suit against the Mormon leader in Hancock Count Circuit Court, at Carthage, charging that Smith had been living with Maria Lawrence 'in an open state of adultery' from October 12, 1843, to the day of the suit."

"In response, Smith flatly denied polygamy in a speech delivered on May 26: 'What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can find only one.' As polygamy was illegal under US law, Smith had little choice but to openly repudiate the practice. But as is often the case with secret policies that are denied publicly, Smith's credibility would later suffer."

"Realistically he must have understood that thirty-three or more marriages could not be kept a secret forever, and that when they became known the gulf between his public statements and private practice would come back to haunt him."
-"In Sacred Loneliness by Todd Compton", pp. 476-477.

Thus we see that not only did Joseph Smith commit the crimes of bigamy and adultery, he lied about doing so. It was that May 1844 denial which set into motion the events that led to Smith's death one month later.

Furthermore, Mormon polygamy was never legal, at any time - not even in the Utah territory from 1847 to 1890.

Marriage is a legal contract between one man and one woman. There has never been a law enacted to allow otherwise. All the married Mormons who emigrated to Utah in 1847 had been married under the civil laws of their respective states; each one of those states had laws against bigamy, thus making monogamy the "common law."

The very reason Brigham Young chose to move to Utah, rather than Oregon, California, or Texas, as others suggested, was because Utah was an uninhabited "no man's land". However, the area was legally Mexican territory and polygamy was illegal in Mexico.

In the United States, marriage is a legal contract regulated by the various states. When the Mormons went to Utah in 1847, all married Mormons at that time had been married under laws of the states they had come from. Utah became U.S. territory in 1848 after the Mexican War, and thus all citizens living therein became subject to the common laws of the nation, including marriage laws. (To use an analogy, you get your drivers' license from your state, but it is recognized as being legal in all the states. Marriage licenses are similar.)

Once in Utah, Young attempted to establish the "Territory of Deseret," and operate the area as a theocracy, under the "Law of the Lord," which included plural marriage and blood atonement. However, Congress rejected Young's attempt, and in 1850, the area was officially established as Utah Territory, with territorial overseers appointed from Washington D.C.. President Millard Fillmore appointed Young as governor. Thus, polygamy became specifically illegal under U. S. common laws in 1850; but, since polygamy was also illegal under Mexican laws beforehand, there was never a time when polygamy was legal in Utah.

The 1862 federal Morrill Act was not the first law which made bigamy illegal; it was merely the first law which specifically reinforced existing state anti-bigamy laws. It was enacted specifically to close the "loophole" that the Mormons mistakenly believed they were operating under.

Even after the passage of the 1862 Morrill Act, the Mormon Church continued to practice polygamy in violation of the law for another half-century, and repeately challenged those laws. So anyone who argues that "The Mormons stopped practicing polygamy when it was made illegal" are either misinformed or misrepresenting the truth.

The final nail on the coffin which demonstrates polygamy's illegality was when Ann Eliza Webb filed for "divorce" from Brigham Young and sued him for alimony in 1877. Young successfully argued that their relationship was "an ecclesiastical affair, not a legal one," and the judge rightly ruled that since there was never any legal marriage, Webb could not file for divorce nor seek alimony.

Since Young himself admitted that his own "plural marriages" were not legal marriages, that means that no other Mormon "plural marriage" at any time was a legal marriage either. No legal marriage licenses were ever applied for nor granted, and every single child born of Mormon "plural marriages" was illegitimate - i.e. not born in a legal marriage.

All of the federal laws enacted against Mormon polygamy from 1862 to 1879 merely served to force the Mormons to comply with existing common laws. But the fact that those additional laws were enacted does not mean that Mormon polygamous marriages were ever legal in the first place.

In 1878, the United States Supreme Court upheld the conviction of a Mormon under the federal statute prohibiting bigamy against a challenge that, among other things, the statute infringed on the first amendment right to freedom of religion.

In so doing, the Court noted that polygamy had "always been odious among the northern and western nations of Europe and, until the establishment of the Mormon Church, was almost exclusively a feature of the life of Asiatic and of African people."

The U.S. Supreme Court described further that:

at common law, the second marriage was always void (2 Kent, Com. 79), and from the earliest history of England polygamy has been treated as an offence against society. After the establishment of the ecclesiastical [98 U.S. 145, 165] courts, and until the time of James I., it was punished through the instrumentality of those tribunals, not merely because ecclesiastical rights had been violated, but because upon the separation of the ecclesiastical courts from the civil the ecclesiastical were supposed to be the most appropriate for the trial of matrimonial causes and offences against the rights of marriage, just as they were for testamentary causes and the settlement of the estates of deceased persons.

By the statute of 1 James I. (c. 11), the offence, if committed in England or Wales, was made punishable in the civil courts, and the penalty was death. As this statute was limited in its operation to England and Wales, it was at a very early period re-enacted, generally with some modifications, in all the colonies. - U.S. v. Reynolds, 98 U.S. 145, 164-65 (1878) (emphasis added).

The point is, polygamy has always been illegal in "civilized" western Christian cultures.

And, since the 1862 Morrill Anti-Bigamy act, the 1879 SCOTUS Reynolds decision, and the 1882 Edmunds Act all reaffirmed the illegality of Mormon "plural marriage," then why did the Mormon God wait until 1890 to reveal to Wilford Woodruff that the church needed to obey the laws of the land which had already been in force for over 40 years?

And if the Mormon God told Woodruff to obey the laws of the land in 1890, then why did Woodruff himself "plural marry" Lydia Mountford in 1897? And why did other LDS general authorities secretly authorize dozens of other "plural marriages" between 1890 and at least 1906? And why was LDS church president Joseph F. Smith convicted of unlawful cohabitation and fined $300 in 1906?

What we must keep in mind is that Joseph Smith's "revelation on celestial marriage," which introduced and authorized "plural marriage," is Mormon scripture, even today as Section 132 of the Doctrine and Covenants.

But in introducing the "revelation on celestial marriage," Joseph Smith directly contradicted the 1835 Doctrine andCovenants scripture which specifically prohibited the practice of polygamy; and by practicing polygamy, Joseph Smith violated his God's order to "obey the laws of the land."

So we have a little problem here. And Smith's Prophetic successors as church leader Brigham Young, and then John Taylor, continued to advocate and practice polygamy in violation of the law for another half-century. And the LDS church's current edition of the Doctrine and Covenants still contains the "revelation on celestial marriage", which sanctions plural marriage.

So why did the founding prophet of the LDS church contradict and violate his own "revelations", as well as the laws of the land, by secretly teaching and practicing polygamy?

Why did Smith's successors continue to teach and practice polygamy for another half a century, in violation of the laws of the land?

If the practice of polygamy was wrong, then why did Joseph Smith tell his followers that God sent an angel with a sword to threaten him with death if he did not practice polygamy? Did Joseph Smith just make up all that or what?

More on Mormon Polygamy


Introduction | LDS History | LDS Leaders | Mormon Temples
Mormon Sexuality | Commentaries | Church Parables | Useful Lists
Recovery | Related Links




Top of Page | Home Page | Mormon Biographies | E-Mail

Copyright www.think-link.org, all rights reserved.
Terms of Use